Sky News AM Agenda – Tom Connell

SUBJECTS: US Election; China Trade; High Court rejects Clive Palmer’s challenge to WA border.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: And of course, with the US election, joining me live Deputy Labor Leader, Richard Marles. Thanks very much for your time. As we’ve seen, Joe Biden gain in several key states. A tweet from Donald Trump amongst many ‘stop the count.’ It’s just anti-democracy, isn’t it?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, look, I mean, Donald Trump, if we’ve learned anything over the last four years, is going to say what he’s going to say. And he’s always been unpredictable and that’s his form. But I think if you put that to one side, and you look at the way in which the American system is playing out, it’s playing out as it should. The count is occurring, it’s a close election, some elections in America, some elections in Australia take a number of days to conclude. So there’s nothing particularly unusual about that and our job really is to just give the US the space it needs to ultimately land this result and I’m sure they will.

CONNELL: I mean you say put it to one side, would we be putting it to one side if other world leaders had said that? Why does Donald Trump get a pass mark from something he said, you know, he’s unpredictable. This was predictable, wasn’t it, this reaction?

MARLES: Well, I’m not sure it’s a leave pass, its just to make the observation that what we’re seeing from Donald Trump in the last few days is what we’ve seen over the last four years. It is what it is, and we’ve learned to live with Donald Trump’s comment by tweet. And often those tweets have been pretty unpredictable, but it is what it is. I think what’s important here is that the American system is playing out as it’s meant to. And indeed, what is playing out was absolutely predicted in the lead up to the election in the sense that because of COVID-19, there have been a large number of people who have voted by mail, who voted early. And so there were predictions before the election, that it was going to take some time to count this and it might be a few days before we get the result. That’s now what’s playing out. We’ve just got to let it play out.

CONNELL: But again, if we look at the action and Donald Trump and his team, this is a concerted effort, ‘keep counting in Arizona’, ‘stop counting elsewhere’. Again, that’s not a democratic urging, is it?

MARLES: Well, I mean, what is important in any democracy is that every vote is counted. The act of voting is a sacred act, it’s, you can read right back to the earliest writings of the American democracy and that’s what it says there and indeed, that’s informed our own democracy over more than a century. And part of the act of voting is that at the end of the day, the vote that is cast is counted and recorded. But that is what’s happening in the US and we should let that play out. But I’m absolutely certain that it’s going to, and at the end of the day, we’re going to get a result. Donald Trump is going to tweet what he’s going to tweet, we’ve come to learn that over the last four years, it is what it is and I’m not sure that it helps to kind of make any more observation on it than that. What matters is that we have a sense of confidence in the way this election is playing out. And we absolutely do. America is a great democracy and it’s fulfilling this election in the way that we expected it would and that’s a great thing.

CONNELL We’ll see how those institutions hold up. If Joe Biden –

MARLES: Institutions will hold up. I think that’s important; institutions will hold up. You know there’s been a lot of kind of commentary in various places over the last few months about whether they will hold up. I think that’s essentially the point I want to make.


CONNELL: Given the makeup of it, whether it takes a sort of ‘Team Red’ approach to some legal questions right now that some people think are not really valid.

MARLES: I think the American judicial system will apply the rule of law. I’ve got complete confidence that the American institutions are going to manage this election and land it and our job, as a friend and an ally is to give the US the space for that to happen.

CONNELL: Let’s move on to what’s happening with Australia and China and the relationship there. It seems a bit unclear, Chinese media is reporting there is this widespread ban; seafood, including lobster, wine, coal, barley, timber, sugar, copper ore. The Ministry won’t confirm it, though. What sort of government can’t even communicate- that is China communicating to Australia- what it’s doing with a major trading partner and supposedly a strategic partner?

MARLES: Well, it’s obviously a deeply concerning situation and we actually need to hear from our own government about what’s the plan. When the government signed the China Free Trade Agreement, it touted itself as being the great trade government in our history, it was all about the actions of the Australian Government at that moment in time. Now, it is essentially saying this is beyond its control. I don’t actually think that is good enough. I think all of those in Australia, hundreds of thousands of jobs who are dependent upon this trade, those people want to hear from our government about what’s actually going on-

CONNELL: Let me jump in there. These are two separate issues, surely. You sign a Free Trade Deal. In that negotiation, you try to get as many tariffs dropped by as much as possible. That’s the aim there, there’s nothing else. It’s just about trade. What’s happened since has all kicked off since Australia was a big part of the push for an independent inquiry into COVID-19. They are separate issues, surely. The Australian Government’s allowed to say what a great trade deal, and things can go wrong for a different reason.

MARLES: Well, my only point is, that trade is a function, ultimately, of the relationship between the two countries. The deals that we sign are a function of that as well. And the Australian Government is part of that relationship and the Australian Government can’t, as it’s trying to do at the moment,  sit on the sidelines and throw its hands in the air and say there’s nothing we can do, this is beyond our power. They are part of this relationship. Now I do make the observation Tom, we are seven years into this government and there is not a single personal relationship of substance between any member of this government and any member of the Chinese government, which can give some ballast to this moment.-

CONNELL: Do you give any blame?


MARLES:  I find that astounding. I find it completely astounding.

CONNELL: The decision that upset China was the inquiry. It was 5G. Our Ministers are seeking just to pick up the phone with China. Their Ministers won’t return phone calls. Why aren’t you more critical of China for that?

MARLES: We’ve made criticism of China all along. And we can make observations about the way in which China is behaving, for sure. But as much and all as we do all of that, it doesn’t change the reality of the situation; that the side of the relationship that Australia gets to control is the Australian side. And I’m just making observations about where that is at. And I do find it astonishing that seven years down the track, they can’t point to a single relationship of substance. I mean, during the Cold War, there were relationships of substance between the United States and the Soviet Union which provided ballast in that one-


CONNELL: The big decisions again on 5G, on the Inquiry, would Labor have made the same decisions?

MARLES: Labor supports those decisions. But the assertion that you’re now making is that it’s all about that. I think there is more to the relationship than simply those decisions. I think it is possible-

CONNELL: You don’t think that’s the big reason though, for why things have soured. Because if the Chinese Communist Party watches reaction from yourself, that’s saying, what about the Australian side? They can say yeah, great, it’s not our fault. It’s the Australian Government.

MARLES: I’m not saying China is without blame- that is absolutely not my point. We can, we can absolutely make criticisms about what’s happening here. So let’s be clear; China should be held to account in terms of its obligations in relation to the China Free Trade Agreement, no question at all. The Australian Government has to accept responsibility for its part in this relationship as well. And even to the extent of holding China to account, in the context of the Trade Agreements that we have in place. But what we’ve got at the moment Tom-


CONNELL: If things are right-

MARLES: That’s not right, because what we’ve got to remember–

CONNELL: If things arrive at the Chinese port, and they’re not allowed entry into the country, what can the Australian Government do?

MARLES: Okay, if the assertion of the Australian Government is that in relation to our largest trading partner, the partner with which it has sought to engage in enormous amount of trade, that we’ve got to a point now where they are powerless in respect of it, I think that is a profoundly unsatisfactory answer. For the thousands, the hundreds of thousands of people in this country whose employment is dependent upon that trade, I think they would have hoped that as this government pursued this trading course, that they were doing so with greater agency and with greater power.

CONNELL: So just in terms of –

MARLES: Let me make this point, Tom. Because there is this kind of proposition that is put out there that if we want to stand up for our values, and if we want to stand up for our national interest, then this is the inevitable consequence. We can do all of that, and we must do all of that. We must stand up for our national interest. But we also must do our diplomacy right. And to find ourselves seven years down the track, and this government, unique against any other Australian Governments since Australia recognised the People’s Republic of China back in the early 1970s, is in a situation where there is not a single relationship of substance that exists between anyone within this government and anyone within the Chinese Government, that is inept. And to suggest that has nothing to do with this situation is just wrong. Personal relationships matter, and they don’t have one in place. And so that’s what I point to at the moment in terms of this government’s behaviour. Yes-


MARLES: We can criticise China, we should. But to say that the Australian Government has no say in this, isn’t right.

CONNELL: I guess the question is, what the government can do. They’re picking up the phone. I think there’s been three trips from the Minister to China. Anyway, I want to get you very quickly-

MARLES: Yeah, but we’re seven years down the track, Tom. And picking up the phone and not getting an answer just says they actually haven’t managed to achieve what they should have at the start.

CONNELL: We’ve got news coming in, the High Court has rejected Clive Palmer’s challenge against WA’s border ban. All laws are valid. Clive Palmer to pay costs. Quick reaction on that one?

MARLES: Well, I think, you know, that is not a surprise. But I do think the internal borders of our nation have something to do with our federal government. And I find it amazing that from the very outset of this, our Prime Minister sought to have nothing to do with the decisions that were made in relation to our internal borders. I can tell you, John Howard would not have absolved his responsibility in relation to internal borders in the way that Scott Morrison has and I think the Commonwealth has something to do with this.

CONNELL: Richard Marles, appreciate your time. We’ll have to leave it there. Thank you.

MARLES: Thanks Tom.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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